I read the following in the introduction to a book I read recently by Connie Neal called Wizards, Wardrobes and Wookiees: Navigating Good and Evil in Harry Potter, Narnia and Star Wars. The excerpt below was, I thought, a wonderful summary of that genre of tale. Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, L’Engle…all have used this basic framework to craft some of the most well-read and beloved stories in our history. When you break it down to its most basic you realize that The Writer’s Journey is used all around us in one shape or form. I thought it fascinating.
Some of the most powerful literature is made up of fantastic stories—fairy tales, fantasy fiction, folklore and myths. These kinds of stories take us beyond the limitations of our own world through some mode of the supernatural. Looking back on myth and classic literature in every culture, scholars have identified story patterns, themes and mythic archetypes (standard character-types such as the hero, the mentor and the villain) that show up consistently in stories passed on from generation to generation. The basic story line shared by such stories has come to be known popularly as “the hero’s journey,” chronicling unlikely heroes who grow to confront evil and overcome evil with good. You can readily find this pattern in Star Wars, the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series.
Fantastic stories take the audience along the path of the hero—who can be male or female—throughout the journey in his or her quest. The hero’s journey has been recognized as having so much power to entertain and satisfy audiences that it has become standard training for screenwriters. Christopher Vogler, a former story-crafter for Disney Animation, showed writers how to incorporate these classic patterns and character types—not as a rigid grid simply to be filled in by a storyteller but as a flexible guide for storytelling. Here is his summary as it appears in his book The Writer’s Journey:
- HEROES are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
- They receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
- They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
- are encouraged by a MENTOR to
- CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World where
- They encounter TESTS, ALLIES, and ENEMIES.
- They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
- where they endure the ORDEAL.
- They take possession of their REWARD and
- are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
- They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
- They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World. 1
1Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey (Studio City, Calif.: Wiese, 1992), p. 26.